On the eve of SXSW, a PR industry veteran snapped and sent an anonymous email
to the editor of BuzzFeed on the state of tech PR. In case you missed it, enjoy these snippets (which contain some harsh language):
“Journalists hate you [tech and startup PR professionals] because you (whether you know it or not) hate the journalists. You don’t show them respect. You’re sending them an email that sounds like you don’t give a shit
“Thank you for making it so that each reporter who speaks to me is pleasantly surprised that I don’t sound like a retarded robot from the planet asshole.”
Some outspoken PR types rallied to the defense of the profession, but most bit their tongue and waited for the furor to die down. Why? Vitriolic blog posts like this one are not uncommon.
You may recall a similar incident in August 2008. Forbes
contributor Jennifer Leggio blogged that the broken record skipped
when Edelman’s Steve Rubel inflamed the industry with the question, “Is Tech PR becoming obsolete?”
Four years later, experts from all sides of the industry agree that tech PR is more relevant than ever. Here’s what they told me about the topic:
The Startup Starlet: Amy Jackson, public relations manager for Tripit
“Tech PR isn’t broken. I think it’s just changed a lot. The principles of good PR apply to whatever industry you’re in.
“One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned is that if you have an interesting, well-written pitch you don’t need any tricks. A good story idea sells itself.
“Always ask yourself: What is interesting about this product? I think everyone has an interesting story about where they came from and what inspired them to create that product. It’s your job as a PR person to find out what those stories are and tell them to the world.”
“Read blogs, magazines, keep an eye on Twitter. Be a storyteller, get plugged in and build relationships.”
The Hybrid: Michael Kanellos, vice president, Eastwick; contributor to Forbes/CNET
“PR people should treat their job like they’re reporting a beat. They need to know their companies down to the core. I talk to my clients like I’m doing a release. They’re very close to how my stories would look like if I was on the other side.
“Learn about their competitors and the market. You can point trends out to reporters and help them out. Reporters don’t have time to look at every company and every trend. Try to understand the motives and daily schedules of the reporters and media outlets.
“In 2010 at a clean energy conference held by Richard Branson, we were broken up into six groups to come up with tasks for solving energy efficiencies. One of their top three recommendations was to better communicate the value proposition. Corporate America underestimates the importance of communication. They assume if they have a good product it will sell itself. They underestimate the importance of articulating clearly what that company does.”
[Full disclosure: I sit opposite Kanellos at our San Francisco office. True to form, he runs his accounts as if he had never left the newsroom. The phone is constantly ringing.]
The Insider: Francine Hardaway, co-founder of StealthMode Partners
“I do a fair amount of PR under a different name now: Evangelism. I only evangelize things I believe in. I do it by writing and sending it out on my own blog. If there is a story, journalists will find it. I don’t have to pitch them.
“Journalists hate when PR people send out these press releases that have been through a committee and don’t say anything by the end.
“I wonder: Why don’t more PR people have their own blogs in which they talk about their clients in interesting ways? And not depend on someone else to do it for them. Put your blog on the social stream. When I’m writing something about the company, I interview the CEO as though I were a reporter.
“If you don’t understand fully what the client does, you don’t join the team. That is so basic, I don’t even think about it. Back in the day when I did Tech PR, my firm got acquired by Intel. I made damn sure that I learned everything that Intel did. I read endlessly about semi-conductors. I spent a lot of uncompensated time becoming the pro my client needed me to be.
“If you’re not interested in your client, why did you take them in the first place? You shouldn’t take a client that you don’t believe in.”
The Mediator: Sam Whitmore, editor of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey
“There hasn't been a year where somebody hasn't said that tech PR is broken and they hate us. Every generation goes through this angst.
“More often than not, journalists will only hear from a PR person because they have something to accomplish. Eighty to 90 percent of PR contact outbound is on the PR person's agenda. If you only heard from someone if they needed something from you, you wouldn't be friends with them for very long. It needs to be give and take.
“The obvious antidote is to communicate with people when you don't have to. Send them a link, leave a sincere comment on a blog post they might have written.
“With my teleconference series, I am in a position of Switzerland. I’m proud of that position. It's a great opportunity to provide a framework for understanding. Journalists want to be understood by PR and to leverage public relations to form a fuller understanding of their beat.”
The Reporter: Adam Aston, energy and environment writer
“Since narrowing my focus to green [business], environment, [and] sustainability, the volume of pitches has fallen from when I was at Businessweek
. I have more of a balance with getting pitches and responding quickly when they're of interest. Over time, the publicists appreciate that. Sometimes, the absence of a response causes fourth and fifth follow up calls.
“As a rule, if I ever give advice, I always say that one call is enough. Consider it read. No response is implicitly a ‘no.’
“I don't see the industry as broken. I think the technology has made it more of a double-edged sword. Emails bring shorter, more immediate messaging which is something I appreciate.
But on the other side, there’s an overload and over-communication of messages. I have a few startups that email me every month with non-news stories about what the company is doing. That leads me to resent them. And if they do have news, I'm less likely to look at it.”
Technology PR—was it ever really broken in the first place? Like any industry, there are a few bad apples that don’t play by the rules. We’ve all heard about the PR professionals that harass reporters with automated emails and fail to do their homework. Here’s an unsexy truth: the majority of PR pros I meet are hard workers with a scary amount of knowledge about enterprise technology.
Got any examples of PR done right? Have you ever hustled to provide a reporter with information on deadline? Spent uncompensated time delving into the mysteries of cloud computing? Let me know in the comments below.
Christina Farr is a former news reporter, with a graduate degree in journalism from Stanford University. She works at Eastwick, a Silicon Valley public relations agency. In December, Farr reported on whether PR pros can practice objective journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @chrissyfarr.